Editorial: Tribune endorses Alexi Giannoulias

What do driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations have to do with abortion or Donald Trump?

If that sounds like an absurd question, you were not at our endorsement meeting for the Democratic side of the upcoming primary for Illinois secretary of state. One of the two candidates, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, slung mud in the direction of her rival, Alexi Giannoulias, accusing him of Trumpian sympathies just because he wrote an opinion piece in this newspaper in 2016 arguing that the country should come together to help its duly elected president unify a divided country. Trump did not return Giannoulias’ favor four years later, of course, but that does not mean the former state treasurer was wrong to take the high road in 2016.

At other points in the campaign, Valencia has implied that Giannoulias is anti-abortion, a charge that not only fails the smell test but seems like an absurd digression in pursuit of an office that most Illinoisans want to be in service to their everyday lives.

Everybody hates going to the depressing “DMV,” notwithstanding some notable improvements under the current (and retiring) secretary of state, Jesse White. You can stand in line for hours only for driving tests to be cut off, you get sent home if just one piece of paperwork is out of order, even though most of those security and identity checks could quickly be conducted online, and you get shuffled from one sedentary employee to another.

Most people want the new secretary of state to minimize their interaction with the office, to upgrade the archaic technology and find a way to offer digital options for driving licenses, while protecting what older drivers need for their comfort, too. The office also is charged with keeping Illinois roads safe and that means rigorous driving tests, especially for truckers, and no cash under the table to circumvent safety regulations.

That brings us to Ignite Cities, a technology consulting firm where Valencia’s husband, Reyahd Kazmi, is a managing director and lobbyist. When we asked about what appears to have been her use of official emails to solicit business for her spouse, Valencia’s initial answer was that she should have been more careful with her different accounts. That was less than comforting.

Plenty of legitimate cash changes hands at the secretary of state’s office on a routine basis and the boss not only has to be squeaky clean when it comes to who gets contracts for what, but has to be seen as such by colleagues, lest corruption fester at lower levels. Unlike Trump and abortion, that matter has a direct bearing on the professional duties of the office, which is also tasked with regulating lobbyists for state government.

Valencia pointed out to us that male candidates do not typically have to answer such questions about the activities of their husbands, a fair point. She also said that she would put in safeguards and that her husband would no longer be able to lobby the state. We take her at her word, and we note that she has done a professional job at the city clerk’s office, which functioned well even during the pandemic. We also note Valencia’s compelling personal story as a Latina seeking public office with a regard of accomplishment. Still, the facts of the past remain troubling.

We also heard from a third candidate, Ald. David Moore, 17th, an Englewood resident who grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes and enjoyed an impressive private-sector career early in his life. Moore assured us that secretary of state would be his last professional stop and that he would keep his eye on service to constituents.

Moore clearly regarded all of the negative campaigning of his higher profile rivals as ridiculous. He’s right there. We don’t doubt that Moore would serve this office with integrity and with an eye toward equity. He had some excellent ideas when it came to the intersection of the office with library services.

But even if his ambitions might eventually land elsewhere, Giannoulias has the edge here. He has a thick binder of achievements as state treasurer, useful experience for the office he now seeks. And he’s clearly thought through the technological challenges of the potential new job, suggesting the creation of a phone app where Illinoisans could digitally manage their driver’s license, vehicle title and yearly registration chores. He also argued that the long lines at the DMV could be done away with if a digital appointment service was put in place and he rightly pointed out that the private sector (not to mention several other states) already has put in place much of the technology Illinois needs.

Exactly. Reinventing the wheel is not necessary. Just efficiently serving those behind one.

On the Republican side of the ticket, we endorse state Rep. Dan Brady (Bloomington), who we think has more relevant experience than John Milhiser, a former U.S. attorney (for central Illinois) and Sangamon County state’s attorney.

Milhiser is one of several candidates on the Republican slate benefiting from the financial support of Ken Griffin, the founder of Citadel. Brady, though, has the support of many of the state’s more independently minded Republicans and appears best positioned to offer an alternative for Republican voters to Giannoulias.

Brady has offered more detail on his plans than his less visible rival. He also understands what is likely to matter the most to voters in the Republican primary: the efficient delivery of the services provided by the office. He’s spoken with several media outlets about the need to move as many functions online as possible, as well as the importance of “cross-training,” meaning that the office’s employees are better able to offer one-stop shopping for customers. And he’s said that he’ll dedicate himself to making the experience more pleasant and efficient. We’ve no reason to believe he would be anything other than ethical.

Brady has also said he’ll work to improve the education of risky teenage drivers and fight hard against distracted and drunken drivers, responsible for many deaths of innocent Illinoisans. Good.

That’s why this office is more important than many Illinoisans think.

Read the endorsement in the Chicago Tribune here.

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